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VT readers ask questions about volunteer management and administration. Ask Connie, an experienced volunteer manager, consultant and trainer, provides the answers for all to see.
Send questions to AskConnieP@cs.com


~ May 2005 ~ Topics

Dear Connie:

Where are some resources (Internet possibly) where I can read up on skills in supervising, not doing everything myself, and giving specific directions without micromanaging? Thank you!


Dear Ellen:

I believe there are two elements to supervision: the science (job descriptions, coaching, communication, etc.) and the art, which is the personal willingness to "let go" and empower others to be successful (i.e., get the work done!).

On the science side, there are many use resources at the following websites:

http://www.VolunteerToday.com -- check out the bookstore and the archives. The VT site has a user-friendly search engine that allows you to search the site using only a few key words. I suggest you start with "supervision" and "management."

http://www.merrillassociates.net -- There's an excellent article here on supervision by my colleague, Mary Merrill. You'll find it in the Topic of the Month index on the left.

http://www.energizeinc.com -- This site has a wealth of information on all elements of supervision, from position descriptions to evaluation and coaching. Don't forget to search the extensive volunteer management bibliography compiled by Steve McCurley for more resources.

Your role as a supervisor of volunteers is also about leadership, which is a personal quest - the art of effective supervision. I've copied below my favorite list of the "Seven Deadly Sins of Supervisors," by Rick Lynch of VMSystems, Inc. While he's writing about supervisors working with paid staff, I think the principles apply equally to working with volunteers!

Seven Deadly Sins of Supervisors

1. Snap Judgment Selection of Employees [volunteers]
Supervisors often goof at the beginning. Poor worker selection may mean years of worker unhappiness and conflict with fellow workers and supervisors. If the supervisor does a poor job of sizing up the applicant, then a misfit is as likely as not to occur.

2. Letting the Job Grow Like Topsy
Careless supervisors can shape jobs carelessly. New duties are assigned to the worker who has the capability or the time to squeeze the work in. Lazy workers tend to shrug off unpleasant, demanding or boring duties. Ambitious workers sometimes gobble up all the duties in sight, without regard to whether they are wasting their high-level skills carrying a gold-brick. Good supervision requires good job design.

3. Failure to Make Assignments Clear
Vague instructions are bad. Supervisors should make specific, detailed assignments and then give subordinates the authority needed to accomplish them. A worker can't do a job without adequate authority. Divided responsibility results in misunderstanding conflict and low productivity.

4. Being a Boss Rather than a Leader
"When I give an order around here, I want it obeyed!" Everybody knows the type. The easy way for a supervisor is to know it all and brook no interference. It's much easier to handle problems if one doesn't have to consider alternative solutions and possible disadvantages.

5. Indifference toward Discipline and Recognition
Nothing makes subordinates more indifferent toward discipline and achievement than the supervisor who couldn't care less. The supervisor who demands good quality work and recognizes and regards achievement engenders high morale and high productivity. The important thing is that recognition is given and more significant achievements are openly acknowledged.

6. Too Busy to Train
The supervisor who is too busy getting out production to take the time to train subordinates adequately isn't doing a good job. This kind of supervisor is the fellow who can never be away from his/her own job. More often than not, proper training would make it easier to reach production goals.

7. Playing Everything Close to the Chest
Perhaps worst of all is the supervisors who keep all to themselves. They neglect to pass on the work. Nobody knows where they stand. Instructions from this person are curt and incomplete. Questions are frowned on or rejected. This kind of supervisor typically keeps his/her own bosses in the dark, too. Turnover, overloads, slowdowns, and other problems occur unexpectedly.

© VMSystems, Inc.

Do you have a question? Now you too can ask an expert!

Connie Pirtle, of Strategic NonProfit-Resources, has 15 years' experience in working with volunteers. She has consulted and/or trained for such organizations as the Washington National Cathedral, Anchorage Symphony Orchestra, Chamber Music America, and the Association for Volunteer Administration.

Send your questions to Connie at AskConnieP@cs.com.
Connie Pirtle
Strategic Nonprofit Resources
10103 Edward Avenue * Bethesda, MD 20814 * VOICE: 301-530-8233 * FAX: 301-530-8299

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